By ERIKA MARTIN | Reporter
The Barry Building at 11973 San Vicente Blvd. in Brentwood was once a shining example of midcentury modern office design, complete with an open courtyard, winding staircases and expansive lines inspired by Corbusier, allowing for plenty of natural light.
But since 2008 when its most famous tenant Dutton’s Books closed its doors, the once grand structure has fallen into a state of disrepair.
Now its owner Charles Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is preparing to empty the space.
He has presented the tenants with an ultimatum: Sign an agreement to vacate the lease at year’s end or face immediate eviction.
Palisadian Christina Wolfenden Woods’ family has been tenants in the building since 1960 when her father secured the space for his business, Wolfenden Partners, which she now runs.
Wolfenden Woods is among those who signed and will have to vacate her family’s office by Dec. 31.
For Wolfenden Woods, the building was a central piece of her upbringing and still where she works today. She remembers running up and down the curved stairways with her sister as a little girl; working for her dad as a college student and working late into the night.
“You could come in the office any time of the day or the night,” she recalled. “You weren’t in a large building where you would be locked out.”
Her father came into the office every day until he passed away at 89.
“It’s a great building,” Wolfenden Woods said. “You open your door and you’re outdoors. It’s unique in that it has windows on both sides.”
From windows running the width of the structure, its intimate two-story size, airy atrium and ample parking, the Barry Building “has a lot of advantages that we won’t be able to find for a similar price,” she pointed out.
And for Wolfenden Woods, who grew up on Toyopa and now lives at the top of Chautauqua, commuting can’t get much better than the few miles to Brentwood.
The building, opened in 1951, was for many years anchored by Dutton’s, considered by many to be LA’s most famous bookstore.
It was where literary luminaries such as Kurt Vonnegut and Chilean revolutionary Isabel Allende held court.
Actress Reese Witherspoon founded her production company, Pacific Standard, in the building. This was where Witherspoon helped produce hit films such as “Gone Girl” with Palisadian Ben Affleck. She relocated two years ago.
And today, the once bustling courtyard is deserted.
Paint is chipped, staircases are corroding, and the building is in a general state of disrepair.
Many spaces, locked and dark, already appear empty, including the building’s administrative office.
Good luck getting ahold of anyone to talk to, said tenant Maurice Golant. He has been there for 30 years.
“Since [Munger’s] owned the property there have been no repairs at all,” said Wolfenden Woods, who recently remodeled her office to replace outdated features like plywood floors with hardwood. “It’s definitely the nicest office in this whole building.”
Munger has not stated a reason for his decision to shutter the space, or responded to inquiries from the Palisadian-Post about his future plans for the building.
But it is believed to require seismic retrofitting, which could cost a fortune.
In 2007, Munger submitted plans to replace the building with a mixed-use development including 60 luxury condos.
Known as the Green Hollow Square project, the proposal stalled after the Barry Building was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument by city of Los Angeles and plans failed to pass the environmental review process.
Munger withdrew the zoning entitlement application in 2013 and there has been no action on the property since.
Munger was married to Nancy Barry, daughter of the building’s developer David Barry, for 54 years until her death in 2010. Maybe for sentimental reasons he has rejected several offers from interested buyers and may still be seeking an imaginative way to revive its past glories.
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